Muswell Press, $29.99
The only explanation I can think of for the title of this far-fetched thriller is that the villain is Australian and that ‘‘lizard’’ is some sort of Oz joke. The narrator and main character, Alastair, an English university student in his early twenties, is sufficiently gormless not to take No for an answer from his fed-up ex, pursuing her across the Greek Islands, and is sufficiently clueless to get blind drunk in the company of strangers while travelling alone. He predictably gets into life-threatening trouble at the hands of the villainous Ricky, who turns out to be something worse than just a scammer and thief. It comes as quite a surprise to find Alastair physically fighting his way out of all kinds of murderous trouble in quite the James Bond manner, but the best part of this mostly awful book is its ending, which is genuinely creepy.
Almost a Mirror
Transit Lounge, $29.99
Here a detailed and vivid nostalgia for the subculture of Melbourne’s 1980s post-punk music scene is played off against the regional calm of Castlemaine and the gentler and less fragmented exploration of young love, mature motherhood, and the reverberations of childhood damage. Mona and Jimmy are young lovers whose devotion, complicated by various secondary characters, stays the course for longer than you’d expect. Much is made of the interrelations between life and art in its various forms. Readers nostalgic for St Kilda’s Crystal Ballroom in the 1980s will find plenty in this book to speak to them, while other readers will admire Kirsten Krauth’s skill in such virtuoso passages as the one describing the art of making musical instruments, or in recreating the conversations that parents have with children.
The Blessed Rita
Tommy Wieringa; trans., Sam Garrett
Paul Kruzen, collector and trader in military memorabilia, is fast closing in on 50. He lives with his father in a disused farmhouse in the Netherlands near the German border, and the shadows of the Cold War and the Second World War hang darkly over them. When Paul was a child his mother ran away with a Russian pilot and this piece of the more recent past also hangs over Paul, to increasingly disturbing effect. Tommy Wieringa is a prolific and respected Dutch writer and this novel shows his gift for observation and detail as well as for prose, as far as that can be ascertained in a translation, but it is one of those European novels that seems both static and exhausted, as well as having been written by men for men, and only a mild curiosity to find out where this is all going will keep some readers turning the pages to the end.